“Philip” is an artificial poltergeist, an egrigor or artificial intelligence, created as an experiment by a group of Canadian parapsychologists during the 1970s. It was that as a result of their experiment that the human will can produce spirits through expectation, imagination and visualization. The members of the experiment purposed to attempt to create, through intense and prolonged concentration, a collective thought-form. All eight participants were members of the Toronto Society for Psychical Research; and, none were psychical gifted.
The group consisted of Iris Owen, a former nurse and wife of the mathematician A. R. G. Owen; Margaret Sparrrows, former chairperson of MANSA in Canada, an organization of individuals with high IQs; Andy H., housewife; Lorne H., industrial designer and husband of Andy H.; Al P., heating engineer; Bernice M., accountant; Dorothy O’ D., housewife and bookkeeper; and Sidney K., sociology student. Dr. A. R. G. Owen or Dr. Joel Whitton, psychologist, attended the group meetings.
The group first fabricated the fictitious identity, physical appearance, and personal history of their “Philip Aylesford” who was born in England in 1624 and followed an early military career. At the age of sixteen he was knighted. He had an illustrious role in the Civil War. He became a personal friend of Prince Charles (later Charles II) and worked for him as a secret agent. But Philip brought about his own undoing by having an affair with a Gypsy girl. When his wife found out she accused the girl of witchcraft, and the girl was burned at the stake. In despair Philip committed suicide in 1654 at the age of thirty.
The Owen group began conducting sittings in September 1972 during which they meditated, visualized, and discussed the details of Philip’s life. Although no apparition ever appeared, occasionally some sitters felt a presence in the room; still others experienced vivid mental pictures of “Philip.”
After going for months with no communication, the group attempted table-tilting through psychokinesis (PK). This activity, popularized during Spiritualism séances, involved people sitting around a table and placing their fingertips lightly on the surface. The table tilting practice was suggested by the British psychologist Kenneth J. Barcheldor who speculated that some of the group members might have skepticism concerning their venture. He felt the séance setting possibly would produce a communication with “Philip,” which was the sitters’ expectations.
Within weeks after changing to the séance setting the group established communication with “Philip.” They engaged “Philip” in a table rapping session where he gave yes or no answers. “Philip” answered questions that were consistent with his fictitious history, but was unable to provide any information beyond that which the group had conceived. However, “Philip” did give other historically accurate information about real events and people. The Owen group theorized that this latter information came from their own collective unconsciousness.
One session was held in front of a live audience of fifty people and was videotaped to be shown on television. In other sessions sounds were heard in various parts of the room and lights blinked on and off. The levitation and movement of a table were recorded on film in 1974. “Philip” seemed to have a special rapport with Iris Owen. Some member thought they heard whispers in response to questions, but efforts to capture them on tape were inconclusive.
The group hoped their experiment would help in the study if the phenomena of poltergeists, hauntings, and Spiritualism. Their findings appear in the work Conjuring up Philip by Iris Owen and Margaret Sparrows (Harper & Row, 1976).
The results from the “Philip” experiment encouraged other groups in Toronto and Quebec to attempt similar ventures. The fictitious entities were “Lilith,” a French Canadian spy during World War II; “Sebastian,” a medieval alchemist; and “Axel,” a man from the future. All personalities communicated through their own unique raps. A.G.H.